A Spanish-language production shot on the same sets as the more famous version. The English production worked days, the Spanish production nights. Some critics consider the Spanish version superior. I disagree.
The film starts strong. Renfield’s hellish journey to Castle Dracula has more room to breathe. Upon arriving, the castle door creaks open. A nice touch.
But then we see Carlos Villarías as the Count. His bug-eyed visage harkens to Max Schreck’s performance in Nosferatu but pales next to Bela Lugosi’s hawk-eyed gaze.
The film rights itself with a memorable shot aboard the Demeter. In a raging storm, the Count emerges from the cargo hold as Renfield laughs with insane glee behind a porthole.
The striking visual left me wondering: Was I being too harsh? Was I dismissing Villarías for straying from an iconic interpretation? Was he another George Lazenby, doomed to have a solid performance ignored?
The classic mirror scene dispelled any doubt. Villarías arrives with a goofy smile on his face, miles away from Lugosi’s vulpine grin. The climax between Villarías and Eduardo Arozamena’s Van Helsing devolves into a contest of “Whose eyes can bug out more?”
The editing doesn’t help. Despite working from the same script, the Spanish production runs thirty minutes longer. The drawn-out pace drags down the second act, rendering taunt scenes in the English production tedious here.
The cast also proves lacking. Though I preferred Lupita Tovar’s performance in the Mina role to Helen Chandler’s and enjoyed Pablo Álvarez Rubio’s take on Renfield, Villarías and Arozamena felt like pale imitations of Lugosi and Edward Van Sloan.
And there’s no substitute for the genuine article.